Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy


Eva Catafygiotu Topping

Kassiane the Nun and the Sinful Woman

The troparion then concludes with the Sinful Woman's third petition. The final appeal is less formal than the preceding two petitions, its tone more direct and intimate. The Sinful Woman now addresses God as her personal Redeemer, ψυχοσωστα, Σωτηρ μου (Savior of souls, my Savior). The final words of Kassiane's troparion are spoken by the Sinful Woman.They shine with confidence and trust in God's love and mercy:

μη με την σην δουλην παριδης
ο αμετρητον εχων το μεγα ελεος.
do not ignore me, your handmaiden
for You have mercy that is beyond measure.

Thus the prayers, which began with a cry of despair and guilt, ends with a statement of faith and hope. The hymn which began with an image of a lost soul ends with the image of that soul redeemed by God's infinite loving mercy.

In between this beginning and conclusion Kassiane traces the course of a Lenten pilgrimage from the murky night of sin to the brightness of salvation, the conversion of sinner to saint. To read this troparion with understanding is to experience the sinner's exodus from anguish to peace, the passover from death to life.

Across more than ten centuries Kassiane the Nun communicates her serene belief in the transforming grace of Christ's love. The Sinful Woman of her troparion embodies Kassiane's affirmation of Lenten hope and joy. It turns out that her Sinful Woman was a true saint.

1With slight modifications this paper was given at Hellenic College on 12 November 1980.
2Of the several variants of her name I have chosen Kassiane, the one most widely used by Greek Orthodox.
3The text with a translation may be found in E. Wellesz, A History of Byznatine Music and Hymnography, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1961), pp. 353-54; C. A. Trypanis, The Penquin Book of Greek Verse (1971), p. 435.
4Thus service has been translated by Mother Mary and Archimandrite K. Ware, The Lenten Triodion (London and Boston, 1978), pp. 535-41.
5Reproduced in Acta Sanctorum, Iunii II, (Paris and Rome, 1867), p. xx.
6Commemorated on May 29, her life was written by Constantine Acropolites, PG 140:893-935.
7C. Mango, "Historical Introduction" in Iconoclasm, ed. A. Bryer and J. Herrin (Birmingham, 1977), p. 4.
8For the careers of Eirene and Theodora see C. Diehl, Byzantine Empresses (London, 1964), pp. 65-113.
9The feast days of Eirene and Theodora fall on August 9 and February 11.
10See K. Krumbacher, Kasia (Munchen, 1897), pp. 363-64.
11All the hymns are listed and discussed by I. Rochow, Studien zu der Person, den Werken und dem Nachleben der Dichterin Kassia (Berlin, 1967), pp. 35-58.
12See my article "Thekla the Nun: In Praise of Woman" in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 25 (1980), 353-70.
13PG 109:685 C-D. The translation is my own.
14For the prominence of women in the third Gospel, see C. F. Parvey, "The Theology and Leadership of Women in the New Testament," in Religion and Sexism, ed. R. R. Ruether (New York, 1974), pp. 138-42.
15Translation from The Jerusalem Bible.
16Translated in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 13, Pt. 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956), pp. 336-41.
17Probably the earliest hymn on the subject. See the text in P. Maas and C. A. Trypanis, Sancti Romani Melodi Cantica: Cantica Genuina (Oxford, 1963), pp. 73-80.
18H. J. W. Tillyard, "A Musical Study of the Hymns of Cassia," Byzantinische Zeitschrift 20 (1911) p. 433.
19See Mt 28.1-10. Mk 19.1-10, Lk 24.1-10, Jn 20.1-10.
20Pace Tillyard, "A Musical Study of the Hymns of Cassia," p. 432.
21I have a study underway of Eve’s image in Byzantine Hymnography.
22For example, Saint Andrew of Crete in the Great Kanon upbraids his soul for imitating Eve rather than the porne.

St Kassiane

St. Kassiane the Hymnographer